Monday, July 28, 2008

Was firearms buyback a success?

As much as I personally prefer the concept of fewer firearms existing in the public domain, the notion of Chicago’s firearms “buyback” program contains so many contradictions that no rational human being can possibly take it seriously.

For the record, Chicago police set up 25 sites this weekend where people could bring their firearms and surrender them – with the understanding that the weapons will be destroyed. Police say just over 6,800 weapons were collected.

THEY’D LIKE US to think that it means there are 6,800 fewer firearms that could be used to assault the general public. In reality, it means there are about 6,800 people who managed to scam the Chicago Police Department out of a few bucks.

Yes, it’s true.

The police were paying for weapons – $100 for pistols and shotguns and $10 for pellet guns, air guns and other phony weapons that looked real enough that they could be mistook for a legitimate firearm.

You could have taken that BB gun your parents gave you as a childhood present and surrendered it for a few bucks, while giving Chicago police yet another boost to a statistic they want to interpret as evidence we are safer.

EXCUSE ME FOR not being convinced.

The gun buffs who like to think it is their inalienable right to bear whatever firearm they desire (and who secretly hope to have an excuse at some point in their lives to shoot a real live human being) will point out that many of the types of weapons that get surrendered at events like these buybacks are junk.

We’re often talking about old pistols that are defective and that likely are more of a threat to the person holding the weapon than to the person who the gun barrel is pointed at.

If police records were more thorough when it came to ancient crimes, we’d probably find at least a few weapons that were used in crimes decades ago but have not been fired since.

I CAN REMEMBER being a reporter covering a firearms buyback several years ago where someone literally tried to peddle the antique pistols that had belonged to his grandfather. Their condition had deteriorated too much for them to be of any value to a firearms collector, so the owner was just trying to get something – anything – for his “weapons.”

My point is that the police may have built up an arsenal this weekend of junk guns and pellet guns, and possibly, a few toys.

Where are the hard-core automatic weapons that are used on the streets that cause the serious violence in our society today? Those are the weapons whose proliferation in the public are causing the violence on our urban streets. Of course, those weapons are worth hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars, so no one is going to surrender them for $100.

Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis would disagree.

HE MADE A point of showing the Chicago Tribune a sawed-off shotgun with an 8-inch barrel, noting that such a weapon was not good for anything except inflicting harm on other human beings.

But the occasional shotgun in a flimsy field of 6,800 weapons overall doesn’t amount to much of a reduction in the number of weapons available in Chicago.

Not only that, but with the Chicago area consisting of just over 8 million people (with just under 3 million of them in the city proper), 6,800 weapons is an insignificant number.

It wasn’t even the figure Chicago police were hoping to reach. Noting that they collected about 6,700 weapons in their buyback last year, police said they wanted to double their collection effort.

ROUNDING IT OFF, they wanted 14,000 guns. Instead, they barely surpassed the figure reached last year.

The real purpose of a gun buyback is symbolic. It is meant to create the image of a city concerned enough to be willing to do anything to get guns off the streets. If it means they have to spend a few bucks (and not ask any questions, since technically every single Chicago resident who surrendered a weapon could have been arrested for being in violation of city ordinances that ban firearms ownership), they will do so.

Mayor Richard M. Daley, in talking with reporters last week, compared firearms in the public domain to, “gasoline sitting in your home.”

“It’s sitting there and you’re lighting a wick every night, and you’re wondering whether or not it’s going to go off, and it goes off like that in your hand,” Daley said.

OF COURSE, ONE could make an extreme comparison and claim the city should try reducing the number of illegal narcotics on the streets by “buying back” the drugs. In my mind, I can hear the moral outrage of the public to the idea of the city buying drugs (and trying to figure out which drugs are worth money and which are worthless fakes).

A part of me wonders how a weapons buyback is morally any more justified.

But even if one views the symbolic value of a firearms buyback as justification, the city blew it!

Police weren’t handing out actual cash. Instead, they had a stash of debit cards valued at $100 or $10, giving them out to people so they could use them when they go shopping.

IT MAKES SENSE, since in the 21st Century our retailers seem to prefer having people use cards that can be swiped through the register, rather than having to entrust cashiers to count bills and coins.

But it turns out that they did not have enough debit cards on hand, and some people who surrendered weapons later in the weekend had to settle for a slip of paper promising them that the city will eventually give them a debit card for $100 (or $10, if all they did was brought in their kid’s BB gun).

That is the most ridiculous aspect to me.

City officials had hoped to double the number of weapons they collected through their buyback program, yet they did not have enough debit cards on hand to reimburse people for the piddling number of weapons they managed to collect.

HOW MUCH OF a public relations fiasco would it have been if the city had managed to reach its goal of about 14,000 weapons surrendered, yet been unable to make the payout?

Even if their guns are junk, do we really want to be arousing the anger of 25 rooms filled with armed people?


EDITOR’S NOTES: Rev. Michael Pfleger allowed his St. Sabina church in the Gresham neighborhood to be used (,0,160132.story) as a collection point for people wishing to sell their weapons to the police.

City officials try to rebut the argument that nothing but junk weapons were surrendered during the buyback by noting (,CST-NWS-guns23_web_.article) that even antique weapons can kill people.

During the past two years, firearms buybacks by Chicago police have managed to get ( about 11,000 weapons off the Second City’s streets.

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